The wife of an undocumented laborer shot to death by a San Jose State University police officer on Feb. 21 today disputed police accounts of the shooting and called for two campus officers to be suspended and arrested on criminal charges. Laurie Valdez, the wife of 38-year-old Antonio Guzman Lopez, who died near the SJSU campus after police said he advanced at a campus officer with a knife, accused the San Jose Police Department of a “cover up” in its investigation of the officer-involved shooting.
Valdez, at a news conference with Lopez’s 4-year-old son Josiah outside the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library on the SJSU campus, sat at a table in front of supporters who carried signs reading “Justice for Josiah.” In a statement she read to the news media, Valdez said she wanted “the truth” from San Jose police who are investigating the death of Lopez, who also left behind a 10-year-old daughter, Angelique. “I really need answers to help my children understand this horrific tragedy,” Valdez said. “There are so many questions unanswered and different stores being told. I just need the truth to understand how this could have been prevented.” Valdez, 49, insisted that Lopez, who was a Mexican citizen, was carrying a drywall saw blade that was a tool he used as a day laborer, not a knife, and he would not have attacked police because he knew it could mean deportation back to Mexico.
“As an undocumented immigrant, Antonio would never have jeopardized his presence here for the purpose of never wanting to get deported or risk being separated from his son, but it happened anyway, permanently and tragically.” Valdez said she wanted to know from police “why killing him was seen as the only option.” Lopez, who according to authorities also went by the last names of Guzman and “Lopez Guzman,” died Feb. 21 from two gunshots to his back fired by SJSU police Sgt. Mike Santos, according to San Jose police. Santos claimed that Lopez had lunged after fellow campus Officer Frits Van der Hoek with what looked like a knife. SJSU police were dispatched at 10:55 a.m. that day to the southern edge of the college campus at Eighth and San Salvador streets to check out a report of a man carrying a knife.
Santos and Van der Hoek then confronted Lopez, who carried what looked like a knife, on Eighth Street just off of campus property. After demanding he drop the knife, Van der Hoek used his Taser stun gun to subdue Lopez but it did not appear to work on him. Lopez, with his back to Santos, then advanced at Van der Hoek with the object, and Santos shot the suspect twice in the back. Lopez died on the way to a hospital. Later San Jose police, who led shooting investigation because it happened in its jurisdiction off of the SJSU campus, discovered that Lopez had been carrying a foot-long saw blade used for cutting dry wall in construction projects. San Jose police spokeswoman Sgt. Heather Randol said that an investigation into the shooting is currently being conducted by the District Attorney’s Office and once a report is completed “then we will resume our investigation and any additional review processes that are appropriate.”
A spokesman for the district attorney’s office could not be reached to comment on the timetable for its probe into the police shooting. SJSU police Sgt. Jenny Gaxiola said that both Santos and Van der Hoek were back on duty and that campus police did not “have any update on whether the (shooting) investigation is complete or ongoing.” According to Valdez, Lopez had a run-in with local authorities last September, when San Jose police and sheriff’s deputies “beat, brutalized and sexually tortured” Lopez, called him a “wetback” and booked him into county jail on suspicion of resisting arrest. “While in jail, he began to have trouble breathing and was drowning in his own blood” and had to be taken to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center where blood was drained from his lungs, Valdez said.
Valdez claimed that the two SJSU officers had body cameras on them at the scene of the Feb. 21 shooting and any video of the incident should be released to clear the air. “But they don’t want to reveal it,” Valdez said. “I think they are trying to cover it up.” The shooting of her husband amounted to murder and the officers should be suspended from duty, arrested and charged, she said. “I want the truth… and I want the officers to be prosecuted,” Valdez said. Police, she said, “think that it’s going to go under the carpet, they think that if they keep it out of the media, nobody cares because (Lopez) is undocumented.”
Since Lopez was still a Mexican citizen, Valdez said she intended to contact Mexican diplomatic authorities in the United States to request they investigate a possible violation of the Lopez’s civil rights. Lopez “touched a lot of people,” worked as a volunteer for local church and veterans groups and served food to homeless people at St. James Park and “The Jungle” homeless encampment in San Jose, according to Valdez. Valdez claimed that a witness told her that a third police officer, dressed in plain clothes, was also at the scene but was not reported by police as being there.
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